Posted by Marcia Penner Freedman
Intuition. How does one begin to understand something that can’t be seen, touched, tasted, smelled or heard, something that eludes those basic senses that anchor us and help make our world comprehensible? What exactly does it mean when intuition is described as an unconscious sense of knowing or a clear conception of the whole?
It is probably beyond our ability to comprehend. It is not reasonable. It does not lend itself to rational approaches to understanding.
Yet, we know intuition exists. We feel it in our gut. We infer it from observation and evidence. Intuitive knowledge results in the familiar ‘aha moment’; in the experience of thinking or dreaming of someone who calls the next day; in the I-knew-that-was-going-to-happen event.
Intuition also offers a gateway to our primal selves and helps us preserve our unity with all of the natural world. When modern life threatens to sever us from nature, intuition lets us know and sends us out for a walk in the woods, or compels us to hug our cat, or to stop in our path and gaze into a star-studded sky.
Intuition exists in us all, although some of us are more in touch with our intuitive selves than others. Intuitive awareness becomes available to us when logic falters and objective life is not enough.
With intuition, however, we are challenged to leave the comfort of concrete experience. Our intuitive understanding does not come through reason and judgement, as happens in our conscious life. The understanding comes through knowing we know, but not necessarily knowing how we came to know. In making decisions based on our intuition, we rely on an internal communication system that accepts the absence of logic and reason.
It boils down to our conceding to the idea that we have unconscious and subconscious abilities that allow us to sense everything in our surroundings all at once. Leading us to solutions and actions.
Although the neural pathways associated with our five basic senses have been well documented, researchers are still unclear about where intuitive perception – commonly referred to as the sixth sense – resides in the brain. Researchers are attempting to understand intuition and to pinpoint the regions in the brain that contribute to intuitive experience.
Other research is attempting to understand the decision-making aspects of intuition. Scientists are trying to identify the intuitive decision-making processes that result in the ability to recognize and act on intuitive information, without intentional and conscious analysis.
An interesting four-year study, which began in 2012 by the Office of Naval Research, was undertaken as a result of a steady stream of anecdotal reports of marines and soldiers returning from deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan who, in combat, had developed a feeling or a hunch that alerted them to possible attack or the presence of a hidden I.E.D. (Improvised Explosive Device). Dubbed, the spidey sense, after the mysterious perception and intuitive power of Spiderman, this ‘sense’ about the dangers they were facing while in combat allowed them to trust what they knew and to respond without conscious analysis.
In the course of analyzing their data, researchers identified two types of individuals who exhibited greater ability to detect hidden I.E.D.s and who were more alert to the danger around them: 1) Those who either had been raised in rural areas in a natural environment and who had experience with hunting, and 2) those who had grown up in tough urban settings.
This raises many questions about the relationship between intuition, prior knowledge and experience. But I’ll leave that for someone else to ponder.
What is of interest here is this truly human phenomenon called intuition, which expands our possibilities beyond what we experience in the objective world and which keeps us connected to the wild.